Is It Okay to Play Solitaire at Work?

Much has been made about the amount of time people engage in non-work activities on the job. I’ve seen estimates that range from 30 minutes to more than three hours per day. The reality is that no one can remain focused for eight hours at a time. As a result, they look for other distractions. These days, digital technology and the on-line world stands at the ready to take your mind off of the tasks at hand for hours at a time. This is true for everyone, not just the person punching the clock. We all need periods throughout the day to recharge our batteries. If we don’t, decision fatigue sets in and we make careless errors because we’ve lost focus.

So, how to you step away from the current project without losing more time than you had planned? My solution? Solitaire. No, not the type you can find on your smart phone. But the kind you play with actual cards. Why? Because there are no distractions built into the process. When you play solitaire on-line, the screen is filled with other pop-ups, messages, gifs and emojis designed to steal your attention away from the game at hand. If you decide to watch “just one” video on YouTube, you can end up squandering 30 minutes or more because of the algorithms designed to keep you fixated. It’s like Lays potato chips. You can never eat just one.

When you take a break with something offline, you are much more likely to draw line after a shorter period of time. Solitaire with playing cards takes about five minute, two minutes if you deal yourself a really bad hand. I keep a deck of cards close by so they’re easily within reach. I might play two hands if the first one is short. Sometimes I deal two bad hands. Then I know the universe telling me I should get back to work. Whether its Solitaire, reading an article, going for a short walk, or anything else, these short breaks are essential to conserving your energy. Just don’t do them on-line.

Now that I’ve finished this post, I think I’ll take a break and play a game of solitaire. Who knows? I might even win!

“Leave If You Don’t Like It” . . . So They Did

A nationwide firm, which I will not name, conducted an employee survey recently. As with most endeavors of this nature, the results were a mix of positive and not-so-positive responses. After these results had been discussed at the highest level, the CEO called an all-hands virtual meeting. He reported results to everyone and expressed his displeasure about those whom had expressed their unhappiness. Then he did an extraordinary thing. He said, “If there are people in this organization who do not like working here, feel free to leave.” Twenty people took him up on that suggestion and resigned that day. I know this for a fact because the spouse of one of my colleagues was on the call.

Arguably, this one comment probably will cost the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in employee replacement costs and business disruption. He has also fostered the creation of at least 20 evangelists who are now telling their friends, “Don’t work for ___________.” If stories of this incident hit employment sites like,, the company will struggle to recruit top talent. Finally, the CEO has left an impression on those remaining with the organization that they are not appreciated and are “free to leave” if they become unhappy.

After reading all this, your first thought might have been, “Who on earth does something like that in this day and age?” My first thought was, “Here is yet another example of the struggle between emotion and logic where emotion wins.” It is easy to assume that once people reach a certain level of leadership and responsibility, they will have matured past this type of behavior. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

We all, at times, lose momentary control of our emotions. Thankfully, the stakes are not this high, most of the time. But just the same, allowing emotion to overtake our logic can be a recipe for disaster no matter where you are in the organization. You never know who is observing how you act and what you say.

I, for instance, have written a number of angry letters over the years to individuals or organizations who I believe have treated me unjustly. But I’ve had the common sense to sleep on them before dropping them in the mailbox. The next morning all them have ended up in the trash, with a couple of exceptions.

We are increasingly living in a world where emotions are raw. We take everything personally. Others’ opinions are wrong unless they agree with ours. Hopefully, we will all step back from the edge over time. But in the meantime, take a breath!


The Four Word Phrase that Improves Decisions

At one point or another, a store clerk or customer service representative has probably said it. You thought you had asked a simple question. Maybe it was about getting the discount one day past the sale. Perhaps you were returning an item you discovered was damaged. Maybe you just wanted to switch colors. In all of these cases, the person across the counter responded with, “Let me check with my manager.” You probably thought, “Why can’t this person just make a decision?”

This kind of response is not limited to customer-facing situations. In any workplace, there are individuals who seem to check with the manager anytime there is even the slightest possibility of a mistake or misinterpretation. They distract us from our own work, engender a sense of paranoia, and drag down productivity.

In most cases, these people know what decision to make. It’s just that they fear something that nags more and more of us these days – blame. In other words, they don’t want to get in trouble if something goes wrong. Chances are, they’ve witnessed someone else getting reamed for an understandable mistake. Perhaps that person followed the procedure exactly and something unforeseen happened. But rather than taking time to examine the situation, the supervisor descended on them with “What did you do wrong?” They not only felt bad, they felt humiliated.

When everyone else saw what happened, they said to themselves. “I’m not taking any chances. I’ll ask every single time if there’s a possibility of something going wrong. I don’t want to get chewed out for an innocent mistake.” When this happens enough, the entire culture becomes overly cautious.

So, if you’re a manager who has to overcome this kind of cultural apprehension, what do you do? Use one four-word sentence — “I’ve got your back.” This simple phrase accomplishes three objectives. First, it assures everyone that they’re not going to be blamed for good decisions if things go wrong. Second, telling people, “I’ve got your back,” reinforces a sense of trust in the workplace. Third, when you tell people, “I’ve got your back,” it provides you with the opportunity to compel them to start making those decisions about which they are hesitant. We need more independent thinkers. This is a good place to begin.

Not everyone will buy into this approach at first, especially those who have been burned by a “what-did-you-do-wrong” supervisor. But if you are patient, persistent, and supportive, the cultural paranoia will begin to recede. Granted, this will not work with everyone. There will always be a holdout or two. But this may be more because they are lazy decision-makers than concerned about the risk of blame. How do you address that? I’ll save those insights for another post.

The Attributes of an Empowered Employee

On any given day, each person you supervise makes more than a hundred decisions to resolve problems and complete projects. Most are routine and have been executed many times before. This repetition evolves into the mastery necessary to navigate the daily workload. But then there are those unexpected challenges that can disrupt momentum in a heartbeat. We have all experienced the fear of making the wrong decision, even though we pretty much knew what to say or do. Most of us possess the confidence move past this initial apprehension and navigate to a successful solution.

Some, however, struggle to adapt. Much of this apprehension can be attributed to a lack of confidence in their ability to solve problems and make decisions, especially in the stress of the moment. So, how can you help these individuals develop more confidence in their daily decisions? The effort comes down to a simple word – empower. obat viagra chair bzoe viagra see url black hawk down summary essay go source cialis daily med see url can i take vitamin b3 and zetia air force pilot essay essay on role of computer in our daily life essay on the kite runner us history regents essay questions descriptive essay on a birthday party essay on julius caesar play go to site go to link esl application letter ghostwriter site us mitos y realidades del viagra here follow link follow link essay about learning in school help writing journalism admission paper writing a case study abstract  

Top performers in any work environment exude confidence. They believe they are fully capable of dealing with whatever issue confronts them. In order other words. They feel empowered. So, what does it mean to feel empowered? First, it’s the ability to discern. In the workplace, this means being able to examine the elements of a situation, evaluate what needs to be accomplished and determine the steps for doing so. You can share all the universal truths you want about how to solve problems, but the ability to discern evolves over time as the result of trial and error.

Second, feeling empowered is the ability to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty produces stress. Top performers become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Any significant decision involves some uncertainty.

Third, those who feel empowered possess the skills to recover from what goes wrong. Some decisions don’t work out, even if you’ve made a thoughtful choice. Top performers accept that you don’t go through life making the best decision every time. When things go wrong, they take a step back, evaluate what happened, and come up with a fix.

Fourth, empowerment is the confidence to act independently. Top performers take initiative without asking for permission. They scan the environment for what needs to be done. They are always thinking three and four steps ahead. Because of this, they are more likely to be rewarded with positive outcomes. They have a sense of control over situations others may find overwhelming.

The element that connects all of these attributes is confidence. More and more of society is focusing on blame when something goes wrong. As a result, many people hesitate before making decisions, not wanting to suffer embarrassment, or even humiliation if a decision goes wrong. For this reason, many seek permission before acting, even if they are clear on what to do. This is especially true of those just entering workplace.

How can you help people feel empowered? Try these three strategies:

Provide clear parameters – Each time you delegate a responsibility, ask the person to explain back to you what they heard. Chances are, you’ll find gaps in their understanding. People don’t generally get an entire concept the first time. Go back and re-explain what they missed. Then reinforce the concept through a bit of practical application. This will also encourage them to ask questions about other concerns they have. By the way, asking, “What questions do you have?” is more effective than asking, “Do you have any questions?” Asking “what” communicates that questions are expected.

Provide the authority – Many times, we delegate responsibility and assume the person understands the parameters about spending money, making exceptions and so on. Then we become frustrated when they ask endless questions. To be effective, express authority using these three steps:

  • First, explain to the person that they may feel some uncertainty about making these decisions initially. Say something like, “You may feel uncomfortable making these decisions at first. I know I did. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” This will ease their concern.
  • Second, provide examples of decisions where they may hesitate. Then show them the process for resolving them. If you have performed this job in the past, make a list of the typical decisions you made and explain how you made them. You might even create a matrix or cheat sheet they can consult when they’re on their own. Recognize, however, that those individuals who are overly reliant on “rules” may require more coaching than those possessing confidence in their ability to think things through.
  • Third, step back and watch what happens. It is human nature to jump in when you see someone making a mistake. Resist the temptation. If they begin to believe that you will “save their butt” every time something is about to go wrong, they will become afraid to act or become careless.

Reinforce the process – Rehearsal and reinforcement are critical. Some will embrace these principles right away. Others will remain uncomfortable embracing their new authority. This is generally more about emotion than intellect. In other words, they understand what they’re supposed to do, but uncertainty and fear of failure or blame is holding them back. How do you get them to do this? Try these tactics:

  • Explain that you understand their apprehension. We’ve all been there. Reinforce that you’ve got their back. If something goes wrong, you’ll work together with them to resolve the situation.
  • Work together on each of the processes they will need to master. This means posing situations and case studies, based on their and your past experiences.
  • Stay close as they begin to implement. Check in regularly, but be careful not to make the decisions for them. It’s a good sign when they start pushing you away, because they have developed the confidence to act on their own.

When those around you feel empowered, they make better decisions and feel inspired to work confidently and independently.

Making Decisions When There is No Right Answer

Yuval Levin, writing in The Wall Street Journal recently, made the observation that, “To govern, at least at the level of the presidency, is to make hard choices among competing options with incomplete information.” While he was referring to the decisions made at the top of our political leadership, the principle is the same in many other environments.

One of the insights I share with my audiences is that decisions don’t have answers, they have outcomes. Yet the menu-driven environment we live in these days is making us think otherwise. You can open up a browser, type in most any question and access hundreds, if not thousands of possible solutions within .6 seconds. Surely, one of them will solve your problem. But there’s the rub – which one?

When it comes to making decisions, it is human nature to seek safety. In other words, “Which one of these possible solutions will be the right one?” But when we think this way, we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking about the right answer, we should be asking about the best answer. “Best,” however, implies that we have all the information necessary to make the decision. But here’s the bottom line – YOU WILL NEVER HAVE ALL OF THE INFORMATION!

In some cases, this is compounded by competing options that both sound reasonable. Perhaps each one represents an opposing, but valid viewpoint. Maybe you will feel bad no matter which one you choose. Perhaps each one triggers your emotions, but for different reasons. Maybe you know there will be “blowback” no matter what you decide.

I don’t have a three- or five-step solution to this issue. No one does. But after studying effective decision-makers for more than a decade, here’s what I’ve observed:

  • They use their intuition to decide when they have enough information to make the decision. Attempting to gather all possible data ends up in analysis paralysis. Once they feel at peace with what their “little voice” is telling them, they move on to the steps ensuring effective implementation.


  • They record their reasoning. The best decisions-makers recognize that memories are fleeting. It’s best to create a record of what they decided along with why they made the choices they did. This is helpful if their reasoning is called into question legally, by a supervisor, or perhaps the greater community. They can also reference this record as they make related decisions in the future.


  • They anticipate objections. They don’t do this with the expectation of having a response that will mollify every unhappy stakeholder. They do this more to demonstrate that those objections were taken into consideration during deliberations.


  • Once they have acted, these individuals don’t dwell on the decision. Instead, they become focused on ensuring proper implementation. If problems arise, they are right there to make adjustments, explain reasoning, and ensure compliance.


  • They refuse to allow others’ frustrations, anger, even irrationality to make them rethink the decision. The best decision-makers recognize that management and leadership are not popularity contests. There will almost always be unhappiness among some whom the decision affects. These individuals accept that you can’t be all things to all people.

The best decision-makers make the hard choices. The easy ones have already been made.

Improving Performance Does Not Have to be Rocket Science

Sometimes it’s the basics that produce the best results. A while back, I met Bob a manager for the Hot Topic retail chain. You’ve probably seen one of their stores in the mall. They advertise themselves as Pop Culture and Music Inspired Fashion. Target market? Well, just visit one and you’ll get the idea. Most of their patrons are ages 18-30, as are their employees. But in a world where the average retail employee leaves within four months of being hired, Bob has been able to retain his people for three times as long. How? Three simple strategies – He teaches them the business. He compels them to make decisions and he makes it fun. Allow me to explain.

First, he teaches them the business. Most retailers show their people how to fold the tee-shirts, work the register, and locate inventory. Bob takes time to explain how the store makes money. “Know that special that we’re running on jeans?” he’ll say for instance. “That’s called a loss leader. We don’t make any money when we sell them. But it draws customers into the store where they’ll buy items where we do make money. By the way, if you sell them at the sale price after sale is over, we’ll lose money. So please don’t do that.” When the store is slow, he’ll show whoever’s around how that $30 piece of jewelry nets the store about $3 after cost-of-goods, rent, wages, advertising and so on.

Second, Bob compels his people to make decisions. His typical response to questions requiring judgment is, “What do you think?” No one gets a pass. In a world where young people have learned to look on a screen for most answers, Bob believes it is his responsibility to compel the development of critical thinking. Those working for him long enough learn that lazy questions will be met with this response every time and that they had better start thinking for themselves. Even if they resist at first, deep down most understand his motivation and work up to his expectations.

Finally, he makes it fun. One strategy is to run point-of-sale competitions between his employees. Every so often, he will spend a bit of time teaching those working the marketing principles behind point of sale. You know, that’s the area around the registers where customers make impulsive buying decisions and where most stores earn a good portion of their profit. (“Let me grab a couple of candy bars while I think of it.”) Then he’ll divide the team in two and assign each one the left of right side of the register and give them the opportunity to merchandise it. After a week or so, he’ll tally up the sales from each side and buy the winning team a pizza.

Bob will be the first person to admit that not everyone shares his enthusiasm for all this. He knows that few of his employees will follow him into a career in retail. But he takes comfort that he’s teaching basic life skills and educating those who work for him a bit about how business works. Besides, his store earns a healthy profit simply because his employee turnover saves thousands of dollar per year in training, overtime and hiring. You’re probably not in retail. But how can you adapt Bob’s strategies to your organization? I guarantee you it will pay off.


Just because you can measure something . . .

One of the blessings of digital technology is the access it provides to so much information. But that’s also one of its curses. As we all battle daily decision fatigue, the exponential growth of accessible data has begun to overwhelm us.

A colleague of mine serves as dean of education for a university. Part of her job is responding to the myriad reports mandated by various federal and state accrediting agencies. Over the past ten years, she has watched the data demanded by these organizations explode in volume. Sadly, much of this information is never reviewed once submitted. She knows this because of conversations she’s had with regulators who give her blank stare when she asks about certain data they’ve requested. One even said, “I didn’t know we asked that.”

Like many people, I fly regularly. At the end of every flight, I receive an email survey asking me to review the flight. Two hundred flights – two hundred surveys. I’ve begun to delete them all. Everyone endures the endless website pop-ups asking us to review items we’ve purchased or services provided. With few exceptions, the data is meaningless because no one completes them unless something went wrong. If we want to make an informed decision about anything, we now have to sort through reams of statistics, reviews and mostly meaningless information on a quest to find the half-dozen relevant insights.

But enough ranting about the problem. What’s the solution? There are two – If you are dealing with this headache, install a pop-up blocker on your computer. Look for patterns of where the meaningless surveys come from and unsubscribe or block their emails. Take a minute to think about the best description for what you need before searching on-line. Then type in specific keyword phrases. Use quotations around specific descriptions to limit suggested links. Have a second e-mail address you can give when a site demands one for access to a free report. To some, this may sound like common sense. But how proactive are you in employing these strategies?

Now, if you are creating this headache by asking for information simply because you think it might be helpful at some point for some reason. STOP IT! All you’re doing is irritating your customers, clients or constituents. Just because you can measure something, doesn’t mean you should.

Who Says Brainstorming Works?

It is commonplace in meetings and workshops for the facilitator to ask attendees to brainstorm ways to resolve a problem. Everyone sits around throwing out insights and possible solutions. But if you notice, it doesn’t take long before people start repeating what others have said. Sometimes, they’ll even make a comment like, “Everybody else has mentioned the ideas I thought of.”

So how do we get around this barrier when attempting to gather ideas? Interestingly, there is actual research that has examined this issue. One group of researchers reviewed a broad range of brainstorming experiments. They concluded that productivity loss in brainstorming groups is significant and that the historical popularity of group brainstorming is substantially misguided.

Another study asked several groups of subjects to brainstorm ideas for solving a problem. Then they asked a selection of other individuals to brainstorm ideas on the same topic. The results were clear. The individuals outperformed the brainstorming groups, both in number of ideas and in their quality. Still, another study argued that group brainstorming is less efficient due to what the researchers call “production blocking.” In other words, having everyone thinking about the same idea prevents the parallel processing that makes groups so effective. This single focus of attention becomes a bottleneck.

So, does brainstorming work? Yes, but it is more effective to ask team members to brainstorm individually on an issue and then bring them together to share their ideas. Suggestion – Try this experiment with the teams you lead and see if, over time, individuals are better at brainstorming than your groups as a whole.

Celebrating Resilience Through Rejection

Caitlin Kirby, like most graduate students, has faced her fair share of rejections. But unlike most, she decided to celebrate her success at overcoming these rejections. How? By wearing a skirt made up of the rejection letters she’s received to the defense of her dissertation.

Ask the best decision makers you know. They can all tell you stories about the disappointments and crises they’ve overcome. After visiting with lots of them, my biggest take-away has been that they have learned to re-frame obstacles as opportunities. That may sound trite or sappy. But those making the best decisions have developed a resilience honed over years of managing these experiences.

Some people reading this will say to themselves, “You don’t my life. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Those people are just lucky.” To which the best decision makers will say, “Uh, no. We continue to face rejections just like you. We’ve just learned to take a step back, take a deep breath, and begin looking at alternatives and the silver lining in every cloud.” As one person put it to me, “I have become a student of rejection.”

There is no secret sauce or five magic steps. There’s no avoiding the emotion that wells up when rejection happens. But the best decision makers learn to manage it. Over the past 31 years, I have worked with hundreds of clients. I have also been rejected by tens of thousands of prospects. When people ask about my sales cycle, I tell them it ranges from three weeks to three years. Once in a while, a speaking engagement drops in my lap. But an awful lot of time, it is because of a seed that was planted years before. If I was to sum up my philosophy about chasing business, it would be, “Never no, just not this time.”

How about you? What happens when your grand plan falls apart? What do you do when the job opportunity falls through? How do you deal with those times when stuff just blows up? By the way, Caitlin passed her dissertation defense is now Caitlin Kirby, Ph.D. What can you do to reframe the rejections you receive and turn them into a positive force for personal success?

Who Are Your Mentors?

A recent study conducted by OnePoll found that of 2000 Americans surveyed, 74% say they have a mentor. For those who do, the average person has four. “Dad” tops out the list as most common with “mom” coming in a close second. Many people will not find this surprising. After all, it’s understandable that most people would look up to their parents. But what about mentors outside of family? In truth, it’s those you meet in business and the community who have the greatest influence on your decision making and, in turn, your life outcomes.

When I’ve interviewed leaders over the years, I’ve always listened for who they turn to for guidance and insights. Sometimes these people drop into our lives serendipitously such as a boss, team member, colleague or neighbor. But being proactive in seeking out mentors accelerates the process. That’s not to say you should walk up to someone you admire and say, “Hi, I’d like you to mentor me.” The mentoring relationship requires vetting on both sides. Most evolve over time, based on the development of mutual trust and admiration.

We can also outgrow mentors. It may be a difference in values. You may become separated geographically. You might find yourself limited in access. Over time, you may discover that the mentor’s vision is ultimately more limited than yours. When I worked as a stockbroker years ago, Jack, the vice president of our branch said to me, “If you want to make $100,000 per year, find someone who does so and get them to teach you. But if you want to make $200,000 per year, you’ll have to find someone else who does that, because the $100,000 person doesn’t have the vision and skills to do so. From my experience, his advice has been remarkably prescient.

So, what’s the bottom line to all this? First, resolve to define the kind of mentoring you need. Is it personal? Is it professional? Is it about your career? Is it about developing relationships? Is it about growing personal influence? You get the idea.

Second, begin a list of those with whom you have contact who might be able to provide the insights and support you are seeking. Be broad-minded. Mentors sometimes come from unusual places. Someone on your softball team may the person to seek out about honing your leadership skills. You may find someone where you work who can provide guidance about a personal challenge you’re facing.

Third, develop a list of the characteristics you seek in a mentor. This is not a checklist to be shared, but more of a compilation of qualities you would like to see in someone from whom you can learn. There’s no need to grill people. Just get to know the individuals you have in mind and see where the conversation takes you. Chances are, you’ll discover whether the relationship has the potential for mentoring.

Finally, consider what might you be able to offer the mentor in return. Understandably, this should not be viewed as a quid pro quo. But it always helps to keep the other person in mind. You may find that the mentor is simply seeking ways to give back after years of benefiting from relationships from others.

I’ve had a number of mentors over the years and continue to seek out new ones. Some are more fruitful than others. The only way to know is to reach out and develop relationships with those you admire.